book festivals

Talking books at the beach

Judy Fleagle, co-founder of the Florence Festival of Books, which begins Friday, says the key to running the event, like teaching first grade, is organization

Editor’s note: Lori Tobias’ interview with Judy Fleagle, co-founder of the Florence Festival of Books, was originally published on Sept. 12, 2021, by NewsLincolnCounty.com.  It is reprinted here with permission.

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Besides co-founding the Florence Festival of Books, Judy Fleagle is known as the “bridge lady of the Oregon Coast” for a pair of books she has written on coastal spans. Photo courtesy: Florence Festival of Books
Besides co-founding the Florence Festival of Books, Judy Fleagle is known as the “bridge lady of the Oregon Coast” for a pair of books she has written on coastal spans. Photo courtesy: Florence Festival of Books

This year marks the 10th year of the Florence Festival of Books — Sept.17 and 18 — which should have been last year, but we all know the story of 2020.

Co-founder Judy Fleagle likes to say she was tricked into starting the festival after her friend and Florence First Citizen Dick Smith overheard her complaining about a similar event being held outside. The wind was a nuisance and Fleagle wondered out loud why it wasn’t held indoors. Next thing she knew, her name, along with co-founder Connie Bradley’s, was on the Florence Events Center schedule as director of the Florence Festival of Books. Eleven years later, Fleagle’s still loving it. 

I’ve been there with my novel, Wander, for three festivals and have my table reserved this year for Wander and my memoir, Storm Beat — A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast, released one year ago this month by Oregon State University Press. It’s a fun time. Lots of people, most eager to meet the authors and talk books. This year, there’ll be social distancing and masks, but I’m betting it’s still going to be a great weekend.

I caught up with Fleagle for a look behind the scenes.

How has the festival grown?

Fleagle: That first year, we hoped for 20 people to sign up, and within the first week we had 20 people and the next, 40 people and the next, 60 people — authors and publishers. So, right from the start, people signed up for it. We really didn’t know what we were doing. Now, most years, it’s about 75 to 80 authors and about eight to 10 publishers. But this year, because of COVID, it is limited to 48 tables.  Some of these are shared tables with two different authors.

How many show up to buy books?

We get anywhere from 300 to 500. I think one year we had 600. The year we had the most, there was an Oktoberfest by the port. We had a big storm. It was pouring and the tents wouldn’t hold and everyone came to our event inside.  

What do you enjoy most about it?

For me, it’s seeing other authors and connecting with them. I hate to say networking, because that sounds like you are trying to get something.  Just the friendliness, the camaraderie, the feeling of, “Hi, I haven’t seen you since last year.” Authors work alone. So, it’s neat to connect with other authors who do the same thing.  

What do you think visitors like? 

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A great beach read

Cannon Beach's Get Lit at the Beach gathers writers and readers in an intimate setting to talk about books and reading

I am lucky enough to have attended literary gatherings all over the country, leaving me with great memories of meeting writing giants face to face, hanging out over cocktails or dinner, and, of course, scoring their signatures for my collection of autographed books. More importantly, I was lucky enough to be nurtured by some fine writers.

At one of my first conferences, Sandra Scofield took me under her wing like one of her own, and nearly 30 years later, I still turn to her for advice and support. At the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, I remember rising at some ungodly hour to gather in a small classroom with the late director and screenwriter Gill Dennis to explore themes in our work. And at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, a handful of us shared the living room of our clubhouse with Richard Ford who signed his short story collection, “For Lori… with very good wishes for you, for you know.” Seriously, I never knew for sure what he thought I knew, but I always hoped he was right.

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during 2017's Get Lit at the Beach. The 8th annual festival is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

Seattle-area writer Jonathan Evison signs books during the 2017 Get Lit at the Beach gathering. The 8th annual event is April 5-7. Photo courtesy: Get Lit at the Beach

That intimate setting I experienced is what sets Cannon Beach’s Get Lit at the Beach, A Gathering for Readers apart from other, larger events. Not a conference or a workshop, the April 5-7 event is a weekend of small gatherings designed for the purpose of talking words and stories and all that goes with them. Events range from free of charge to $95 for the whole package.

Now in its eighth year, Get Lit can claim some pretty fine bragging rights by hosting authors such as the late Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Award finalist Jess Walter, and the late, and much-loved, Brian Doyle. This year’s authors are Terry Brooks, Pierce Brown, Deb Caletti, Carol Cassella, Sophia Shalmiyev, and Leni Zumas.

The weekend starts with a reception Friday evening.

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